IT’S every little boy’s dream to be in a western, but for Matt Damon, True Grit had certain magic ingredients.
It was being directed by the Coen brothers, starred the double-punch talent of Jeff Bridges and Josh Brolin, and was based on a classic 1968 novel by Charles Portis.
The last time True Grit was worked into a film, it won its star, John Wayne, an Oscar, for his portrayal as US Marshal Rueben “Rooster” Cogburn.
So for Damon, who plays interfering Texas Ranger LaBoeuf, it was simply a case of “where do I sign?”
“This project, it’s like a dream,” says Damon.
“I get a phone call. The first phone call is, like, `The Coen brothers are considering you for a role in their next movie.’
“That’s really exciting. Then I find out that they’re doing True Grit.
“I go talk to them and they give me the book. I had never read the book and the book is fantastic. It really is. It really is a great piece of American literature that I totally missed and then I read their adaptation – I write scripts – and it’s really great. It’s a really great adaptation.”
This time Bridges takes on the role of Cogburn, the ageing, drunken, one-eyed marshal, hired by 14-year-old Mattie Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) to avenge her father’s death.
It was the role that won Wayne a long-awaited Oscar in 1969. But the Coen brothers, Joel and Ethan, who built their reputation on films such as Fargo, O Brother, Where Art Thou and No Country for Old Men, didn’t consider that they were doing a remake. They were going back to the book and by the book.
Their story focuses on Mattie’s tale, with newcomer Steinfeld stealing many scenes and Elizabeth Marvel providing the voice of her adult narrator.
“What they did, which was so smart, was that they used all this dialogue that Portis had written in the book,” says Damon.
“Charles Portis is still alive. He’s down in Arkansas. He’s almost 80 years old and he just had this incredible ear for dialogue.”
The Cohen brothers, who meticulously plan each scene in advance, sent Damon a series of storyboards to look through.
“You get this chunk, this big, thick book and you can literally just look at the movie, how it’s going to be shot.
“They have such a mastery of the whole process that there’s none of the anxiety or stress. I was just like, `Wow. What a great experience’.”
A little surprisingly, Damon has still not seen John Wayne’s version. He owns the movie on DVD, he promises, but it still remains in its plastic shrink wrap.
The busy actor, who has also been working on Clint Eastwood’s Hereafter, in which Damon plays a factory worker who can communicate with the dead, and thriller-romance flick The Adjustment Bureau opposite Emily Blunt, simply hasn’t had a chance to watch it.
“I kept saying that I had to see it because I knew I was going to be asked (about it), but I just haven’t had time. I asked (the Cohen brothers) about that, I said, `Should I see the movie?’ And they said, `Well, no we’re not really doing a remake. We’re going to the original source material and we’re doing the book. So the book is what we really need you to focus on’. ”
The interesting thing about True Grit essentially a tale about tough grown men is a little girl.
Steinfeld, only 13 at the time of filming, impressed her directors and co-stars in her portrayal of Mattie.
Against the advice of her elders, self-assured Mattie hires a reluctant choice of marshal Cogburn to hunt down her father’s killer Chaney, played by Brolin.
Damon’s character, a ranger who is on the hunt for the same man for a different crime, is more headache than hero. It’s Mattie who displays the “true grit” of the film’s title.
“I think the central character, the true grit of Mattie, the girl who’s on the cusp of womanhood,” he says.
“It’s about the loss of her innocence, but this incredible spirit of this girl and then these really colourful characters that come around to flesh out the story.”
Damon knows all about raising girls. He and his Argentine-born wife Luciana Bozan Barroso have four of them. Alexia, 12, is her daughter from a previous marriage, then there’s Isabella, 4, Gia, 2, and Stella, who was born in October last year.
An experienced dad, Damon was impressed with Steinfield’s maturity when he first met her and how she would take direction from the Coen brothers in the same way as he or Bridges would.
“I met her in New Mexico to rehearse and I just remembered being more struck by how poised she was, shockingly. I mean, I have a 12-year-old, but to see a 13-year-old (like that), it was alarming.”
True Grit is Steinfeld’s first movie and she was chosen from a pool of 15,000 to take on the role.
One of the most challenging scenes to shoot was where the weak-willed LaBoef loses it and takes to spanking her.
“Well, I’ve had a lot of practice,” father Damon laughs.
“They put a board over her and I’m hitting this board. So she couldn’t even feel it. She was laughing, saying, `I can’t even feel you hitting me’. But it had to be brutal enough that Jeff would pull his gun out and point it at me. So that was it.”
In an age in which high technology and fantastic tales of superheroes and futuristic characters reign supreme, True Grit proves there is still a place for a classic, character-driven western story.
How does Damon approach that as an actor?
“What we’re doing is setting up a sequel where Transformers come in and that’s the big play here. That’s the big idea,” he jokes.
“We’re just using the first one to set that up and then we’re going to do like 14 of these things back to back.
“Every summer there’s going to be a new Transformers meets the True Grit cast. No, I think that sometimes you see these lurches in different directions, like suddenly it’s all 3D or suddenly it’s all superhero movies.
“There’s always a kind of correction and I think at the end of the day people love good stories.”
What about Matt Damon in the Supporting Category for True Grit!? So subdued and relaxed yet something pretty surprising happened — I forgot I was watching Matt Damon. He became a pretty integral part of the film’s tone. Could it have worked without him? Yes. But he played the part EXACTLY the way it needed to be — not too over-the-top, not too quirky. And I know it’s not a remake, but if it’s any compensation, he outclassed Glen Campbell in every way (see: True Grit, 1969) —Robert
On the day I am due to interview the British screenwriter Peter Morgan, the eyes of the world are turned to Zurich to find out which countries will be selected by Fifa to host the 2018 and 2022 World Cups.
As we all now know, England’s bid to host the former tournament was doomed to failure – a situation one might imagine would appeal to this award-winning author.
Morgan, after all, is a man who – in such films as The Deal, The Queen, Frost/Nixon and The Last King of Scotland – has shown an affinity for turning the likes of Tony Blair, David Frost, Richard Nixon and Idi Amin into compelling protagonists.
He is no stranger to the beautiful game either, having brought football manager Brian Clough back to life in 2009 film The Damned United.
Neill Blomkamp’s ELYSIUM Set 100 Years in Future; BLADE RUNNER Production Designer Syd Mead Joins Film
Elysium, the upcoming film from District 9 director Neill Blomkamp, is continuing to gain heat. After casting Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, and Sharlto Copley, the film is currently being pitched to various studios (with the exception of Disney, which won’t make expensive R-rated movies). Deadline reports that Blomkamp is going from studio to studio with a storyboard presentation. Also, while we knew the story (which is still being kept under wraps) would take place in the distant future and on another plantet, Deadline is reporting that the film takes place 100 years into the future, is “an unabashedly big movie”, and has the same social allegory of District 9.
Hit the jump for more details on Elysium including the hiring of Blade Runner production designer Syd Mead.
Syd Mead, whose credits include not only Blade Runner but also Aliens and TRON, will design the sets for the movie. Mead doesn’t work on a lot of films these days (his only credits in the past decade are Mission to Mars and Mission: Impossible III) , but he was impressed by District 9 and that encouraged him to join Blomkamp’s follow-up.
According to Deadline, the film will begin prep in April and start shooting in Vancouver this July before moving on to shoot in Mexico City in the fall. Elysium is being set up for release in holiday 2012, but the release date decision ultimately falls to whichever studio decides to pick up the project. Considering the talent already on board, I imagine we’ll be announcing a home for Elysium in the very near future.
Sony has reportedly picked up the film for $120 million.
“I think it’s kind of a thing where enough time has passed where it won’t matter if we wait five more years and do it,” the actor admitted backstage at the Critics Choice Awards.
“We just want to make sure if we do it we do it right,” he insisted.
“There’s been a lot of pressure for us to do it, obviously because it’s successful, but that’s that moment I think where you’ve got to step back and make sure you don’t make a mistake and make it for the wrong reasons.”
Since the success of The Bourne Ultimatum in 2007, Matt says he and filmmaker Paul Greengrass have been keen not to rush into anything.
“It’s really up to Paul Greengrass because I’ve always said I wouldn’t do it without him,” Matt said.
“When it feels like the right time, I think Paul will be open to doing it.
“I think Paul’s probably going to do one or two other films that he’s got cooking but then after that, I’m sure.”
Matt was at the Critics Choice Awards to receive the Joel Siegel Award for Service to the Community. The 40-year-old was keen to talk about his charity Water.org which is helping developing countries get safe drinking water and basic sanitation.
“I see when these things are implemented and the affect that they have, that’s a great story to be able to bring back and that to me is what gives me an optimism about it.”